Years ago we were on a family vacation driving late at night on a remote highway in an unfamiliar area. To make matters worse, a driving rainstorm occurred that made driving hazardous. There were many times we considered pulling over on the side of the road but the shoulders of the road were too narrow and there was traffic behind us that made us keep going. The drive that night ended safely as we reached our destination but it was very stressful and we had many different emotions.
As I think about this school year, there are some comparisons to that night that I remember that give me similar emotions as we encounter COVID-19 and the impact as we planned to start school. Our school year has finally begun and despite some challenges, we collectively pulled together for a great start to our school year. But we started in Distance Learning and now we prepare to switch to a new format of Hybrid Learning. This new format will bring a new wave of emotions and challenges that we will need to navigate through to find success. This blog post highlights how leadership responds to challenges and allows schools to navigate through the storm to find success for students, staff and families. Here are some areas leaders can use to “Navigate through the storm.”
Remember your “WHY”
I have learned not to get caught up in the never ending workload, stress, external demands upon our time and frustrations that dominate our thoughts. Yes, hard work is needed and there are times I get frustrated. However, I strive to focus on the right work which is helping others feel valued and supporting their work. It’s important to continue to make positive connections, challenge the status quo and communicate effectively to all stakeholders. If you make decisions from your “why” and use your core principles to guide your behaviors, then you will be supporting efforts to help others which is our purpose.
Firm with your Principles, Flexible with your Practices
For educators this year is constant change. We are not used to that but due to ever changing health guidance, COVID cases changing and supporting teachers for various types of learning formats, many of our “normal” methods may not serve our staff and students the best. Leaders must know what their principles are and what they stand for. We must also be willing to adjust how those principles are carried out to best serve the school community. My principles for our school community are relationships and communication. Both of these principles are still a focus this year. However, I must be willing to innovate ways to make connections with students/staff and effectively communicate to staff and parents that is clear, consistent and use multimodal formats. The phrase “Be Firm with your Principles, but Flexible with your Practices” is from education leader @DavidGeurin and it helps me to remember our purpose can remain the same but can be carried out differently for a situation.
As a leader, you must be comfortable with criticism that others will launch at you. The key is to focus on your “mindset” and continue to be positive and build your school’s culture. During turbulent times, people will look to their leaders for guidance, how to respond and reassurance that everything will be okay. Leaders recognize the importance of being authentic with staff and students but also being the calm, steady leader at the helm of the school ship.
When you are in tough moments not all plans will work. Some plans will need to be adjusted and others will fail. What won’t fail are people. Leaders must remember the value of working with their stakeholders to help make decisions and when things are most challenging, seek feedback and reflect upon the work so necessary adjustments can happen if needed. When you reflect with others, it allows you to see your blindspots and potential areas that may mis-guide the important work of your school.
Serve – Lead – Inspire
As a leader, we must transfer our passion, optimism and beliefs to those we work with. It is so important to show your team how much you care, even more so during challenging times. Smile – have fun- show kindness and positivity you want in your school. View challenges that do arise as opportunities to grow and make a positive impact in that situation. As educators, we went into teaching and working with kids to make a difference. The true difference is not made when things are easy but rather when there is a difficult situation. A person’s enthusiasm attracts more leaders and energizes them to perform their best for students.
This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes. The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes. The areas mentioned above will help leaders navigate through the storm of COVID-19 impact to help their school have a great year. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org